2020 KUEC biotechnology grad gets hands-on experience assisting with COVID-19 testing
It’s not unusual for college students to balance their classroom education with real-life learning experience in the workplace, either through a full-time job or an internship. For 23-year-old biotechnology senior Justin Carroll, however, the experience has taken on a different sense of importance in the last few months. For the last four years, Carroll has worked for clinical laboratory company Quest Diagnostics, first in specimen processing and later as a laboratory assistant. Since the Novel Coronavirus outbreak, Carroll has been helping process COVID-19 tests.
“Pretty much as soon as they announced testing, I started helping with it,” Carroll said. “As a lab assistant, I helped get specimens from specimen processing to the department, because a big problem with COVID testing is that you run into a lot of stability issues.”
Carroll says the most interesting part of his experience at Quest Diagnostics has been interacting with a side of the testing process the rest of the world doesn’t often interact with.
“There’s so much more going on behind the scenes than just numbers that the world doesn’t really know, and I only know about it because I worked with it,” Carroll said. “The intricacies of all the tests that we do, all of the science that goes on behind the scenes is incredible to see and most people don’t get to see it.”
Carroll’s teacher Randall Logan, Ph.D., professor of practice and biotechnology program director, says Carroll’s recent practical experiences, combined with his studies in the classroom, have given him an exceptional advantage in entering the professional world after graduation.
“In the biotech program, we teach our students that good scientific work requires collaboration and ingenuity, in addition to technical knowledge,” Logan said. “Through Justin’s work with us, and his experience at Quest Diagnostics, he has been able to directly apply what he’s learned to the real world, which is excellent preparation for a successful career in this field.”
Learn more about Carroll, and what he learned at KUEC and in the workplace.
Q: What has a typical day in your life been like as a student attending KUEC?
A: My day typically starts with either going to the gym or just going straight into work. After work, I typically have a couple of hours before class to try and prepare as much as possible for the class ahead. With a lot of my biotechnology classes, there is a lab component that takes a lot of preparation. After class, I spend some time in the lab finishing up experiments or setting up for the next day. Then I head home for dinner and relaxation before going to bed and repeating. I try and do all my work during the week to leave the weekend for much-needed R&R.
Q: What makes you the happiest?
A: I would say what makes me happiest is doing well in either school or work. Whether that be an excellent grade on an exam or extra acknowledgment at work. Getting chosen for extra projects at work raises my mood as well. It shows appreciation for my efforts and that they do not go unnoticed.
Q: What motivates you?
A: Growing up in a lower-middle-class family by two parents who did not obtain a college degree was enough motivation for me to want to pursue a college degree. The struggles they had within their careers due to not having a degree allowed me to witness firsthand the hardship of not having a degree. So, when I graduated high school, I knew I was going to be going to college and pursuing a degree. My experiences at Quest Diagnostics also have motivated me to further my schooling, to “move up” in my career, and not to stay stagnant.
Q: Why did you choose KUEC?
A: I chose KUEC mostly because it is the site for the biotechnology program here at KU. After meeting with some KUEC staff and the professors I learned that KUEC was a much more “tight-knit” community and had very good connections with industries. The smaller school vibe was extremely nice to be a part of because it allowed for a lot of time with professors and faculty. KUEC was also in a familiar place coming from JCCC. I knew I would be spending a lot of “outside class” time on campus, so it being close to my hometown vs Lawrence campus was crucial.
Q: How did KUEC meet your personal and/or academic needs?
A: KUEC met my personal and academic needs simply by its location and friendly staff/faculty. The campus is beautifully designed and fits well within JOCO. I can appreciate the size of the campus and it was easy to learn my way around. I am someone who does not believe in the authoritarian teaching/parenting style and thrive when I am given some freedom or wiggle room, which all my experiences with professors at KUEC were. The professors and faculty I have dealt with here at KUEC have been nothing shy of wonderful.
Q: How has your KUEC degree prepared you for the future?
A: My KUEC degree has prepared me for my future by having very industry-involved professors who truly care about our goals and aspirations moving forward after school. Not only do the professors have great industry connections but the supporting staff/faculty as well. I am nothing but pleased with the amount of attention that students are given in terms of professional development after school.
Q: What was the most difficult part of earning your college degree and how did you overcome it?
A: Without a doubt working full-time and going to school full-time was the hardest part of obtaining my college degree. I overcame this by developing more time management skills and having a good support system. Doing school and work full-time without a good support system would be next to impossible.
An aspect worth mentioning is my professors. My professors were extremely understanding when it came to work/school scheduling conflicts. They were flexible and creative in developing ways for me to still succeed. Not just me but everyone in the program, and I truly think that goes a long way.
Q: What is your proudest accomplishment?
A: I would say the proudest accomplishment would be my progress on my senior capstone project and developing what I did. Unfortunately, due to campus closure from COVID-19, my project was terminated prematurely but the work I had done up until that point will not be forgotten. Aside from this, just the sheer ability to work and go to school full-time for nearly four years is a huge accomplishment as well.
Q: What is your favorite memory of your time at KUEC?
A: I have a bunch of memories that I will probably never forget but I think my favorite memory of my time at KUEC will be the strengths finder class period. As my classmates can attest, learning our professor’s strengths was nothing shy of a memorable experience. Learning what their strengths were allowed for us to see what their weaknesses were as well, and we never let that down. That class period where we learned our strengths will never be forgotten and is one of my favorite memories at KUEC.
Q: What are your long-term career goals and how do you plan to achieve them?
A: My long-term career goal is to become a research and development project manager for biotechnology, preferably a biomedical instrumentation company. My career goals are forever changing due to me gaining experiences. I only just recently found this to be a career goal because of my recent experiences at Quest Diagnostics doing some project management.
To achieve this career goal, I plan on utilizing the connections and professional development skills learned from my time at KUEC. In my time here, I have learned many skills and techniques in furthering my professional life and I am confident it will launch me into my dream career.
Q: What advice would you give others who are thinking of earning a degree, whether a first-time bachelor’s, a second bachelor’s or a master’s?
A: Work in the industry you wish to have a career in, either before or during your school. I say this because learning in school is one thing but working in industry during my schooling has taught me so much more and made me a much more sought-after employee. It also teaches you many important skills such as time management and various professional skills. Working in the industry also allows you to make connections and develop professionally. Not to mention a lot of companies, at least in the biotechnology industry, like to hire from within. Potentially giving you a much higher chance of landing your dream job.
Look at the next 40 years you will be working rather than the four years you will be going to school. Being a futuristic thinker is what made me successful in going to school and working full-time. I was always thinking about or planning my future and it turns out it is a strength for me.
Learn more about the Bachelor of Applied Science in Biotechnology degree program at KUEC.